Title: The Beulah Show
Episode: Beulah Goes Gardening
“Beulah Goes Gardening.”
Narr. Hattie McDaniel. Writ. Nathaniel Curtis. Dir. Richard L. Bare. Perf. Hattie McDaniel, Enerst Whiteman, David Bruce, Stuffy Singer. Prod. Hal Roach Studios. The Beulah Show. ABC. Los Angeles Affiliate. KECA-TV (MLA Format)
In many ways The Beulah Show followed the trending production of hybrid entertainment common in the 1950s. While original in terms of showcasing the first prominent female role for a Black Womyn as the star; it followed a growing trend of radio programming migrating into television programming through hybridized narratives. Other shows were coming to terms with the areas where variety show television was failing. As an answer to these failings, networks were attempting to create more broad based programming, that would capitalize on physical humor of these live shows, while toning down the crass elements that bothered conservatives. Past narrative formats were recycled as evolving entertainment desired to keep one foot in the past and one in the future.
In terms of Genre History this show was produced during the dawn of sitcoms in the United States. It helped the growing establishment of a new half hour television format. This format was characterized by, situational humor (i.e. getting ready for a school dance, planning a surprise birthday party, etc.), a suburban family, ongoing characters, solvable dilemma, maintaining status quo, physical comedy, connected narratives, episodic continuing narrative, and archetypical leader who is underappreciated by the family.
African American "Beulah Brown" premiered in 1939, when white american actor Marlin Hurt portrayed her on radio program "Fibber McGee and Molly." Following the success of the program on NBC, Beulah became an established character in the spin off radio series The Marlin Hurt and Beulah Show, in 1945. The white actor’s portrayal of this character continued as a type of “black voice” with which he continued to perform as Beulah. After Hurt’s death the NBC radio’s production of the show turned to Hattie McDaniel who was cast in the role, as the first African American to ever have a starring role in a network radio program, a feat initially applauded by the NAACP. The radio program became a television series when developed by Roland Reed Productions and picked up by ABC in 1950 as their first “ethnic” sitcom to prominently feature Black characters in leading roles. Given a prime time slot, the sitcom aired Tuesday nights at 7:30 ET from October 1950 to September 1953 to both praise and criticism.
The show would come to feature some of Hollywood’s most famous African American actresses of the time, including Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, and Ethel Waters; all featured in the volatile cast that fluctuating due to controversy in the depiction of Beulah. Actor Percy Bud Harris, cast as Beulah’s love interest “Bill” reportedly left the show after getting request to act “Tomish.”
The same controversy over the derogatory and stereotypical characterization of Black one dimensional “types” molding the likes of Beulah, Bill, and their close friend and fellow maid, Oriel; would come to mean the cancellation of the show after 87 episodes and 4 seasons in 1953.